Winner's spoils

Creepy doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I get, having switched on television expecting "That ‘70s Show" and getting "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?"

Creepier still is the Lizard of Fun’s enthusiasm for the beauty pageant-turned-meat market. "Don’t change the channel," it growls, burying the remote under the sofa cushions. "I’ve been waiting months to find out if this is for real."

That’s the thing – it’s all too real. The 50 very real women on the show compete for a chance to really get married to a real (apparently, despite some rumors to the contrary) multimillionaire.

Really creepy, I decide. Eventually, television’s creative types, desperate for new material, will turn practically any aspect of human activity into a game show, and viewers, fascinated that people just like themselves are on television, will tune in by the millions.

At first, it’ll be a big-time thing, with shows like "Who Wants to Be a Movie Star?" Contestants will perform a Shakespearean monologue, do their best imitation of Keanu Reeves, and parade around in the outfit Carrie Fisher wore as Princess Leia at the beginning of Return of the Jedi. At the end of the show, a famous movie director (Will it be Steven Spielberg? Spike Lee? Jane Campion?) will reveal his or her identity, produce a script (based, no doubt, on a contestant who gets famous on just such a game show), and start filming away as the winning contestant practices his or her lines.

But eventually, the idea will degrade. The trouble with "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire" is that it brings out people’s inner voyeur at the same time as it exploits one of society’s most revered (and also creepy, if you think too hard about it) rituals.

You can just imagine the grotesque circus of some of the shows that could follow. How about "Who Wants to Get Pregnant?" as a ratings draw?

"Sure," says the Lizard. What would the contestants do, play ‘Beat the Biological Clock’?"

"Or they’d answer questions about sperm counts and share their opinions about in vitro fertilization."

"I’d watch," says the Lizard. "Especially if they showed the naughty bits."

"Not on network television!" I gasp.

The Lizard wiggles its eyebrows. "True. The implied naughty bits were what titillated on the wedding one. People liked to think about what those two strangers were going to do to each other after the credits rolled."

That’s part of the attraction and the weirdness of this kind of game show. If you win, you have to live with the consequences, apparently, at least for a while.

"Well, I could live with the consequences of being hitched to a rich someone," says the Lizard.

"But they’d have to live with being married to you, too," I say.

"Whatever, whatever. Anyway, I think there’s even more potential here."

The Lizard goes on to explain the ultimate game show for network sweeps month: Combine the presidential primaries with the current multicontestant format, and voilà: The ultimate tool of democracy. A game show called "Who Wants to Be President?"

"Think of all the time and cash it would save," says the Lizard. "No more silly state-by-state primaries. No more negative campaigning, no more boring debates. Anyone who wants can just phone in. Then 50 or so potential candidates get a free trip to a Washington, D.C., television studio, talk a bit about themselves, answer some trivia questions and ta-daaa! You can have the president decided in time to be announced on the 11 o’clock news."

"That’s democracy?" I say.

"Sure. In the future, everything is going to be decided by game shows," says the Lizard. "We’d better hope the future is as prosperous as the present, or else there’s going to be some mighty scary material going on the air."

"Such as?"

"Well, people can compete for various privileges," says the Lizard. "If they’re used to games like ‘Who Wants to Be President’ and ‘Who Wants to Be a Movie Star,’ they’ll have no trouble accepting, should it become necessary, ‘Who Wants to Drink Clean Water?’ or ‘Who Wants to Breathe Unpolluted Air?’"

"You’re sick," I say.

"Seriously, I think this game show thing has an enormous future," says the Lizard, visibly salivating over the prospects. "And I’m gonna get me one of them."

"Well, I can’t picture you as president. But if you marry a multimillionaire, don’t forget to hire me as your personal assistant or something."

"Are you kidding? You’re gonna be hosting my show."

"Which will be?"

The Lizard grins. "I’m going to call it, ‘Who Wants to Be Married to a Lizard?’ Kinda catchy, eh?"

"One problem," I say, thinking about the potential hazards of "Multimillionaire." "Isn’t that essentially how the original show turned out?"

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